Monday, July 7, 2008

Leaving the Library Behind

Rather than visit the local library, I opted to head out to a local arcade and see what was on tap and who was playing. Only problem is there aren't really any arcades left in town, so I ended up at Star Cinema in Fitchburg, on one of the busiest movie weekends of the year observing who played any of their five video games.
Now, with only five videogames available (including the "claw" machine) the selection obviously leaves much to be desired. Looking at the lobby as you enter, to the right is a "Mrs. PacMan / Galaga" game, left standing all alone, and to the left is the claw machine, a boat-racing game, a pinball machine and "Time Crisis 2". The potential audience for these amusements ranged from 5 year-olds to octegenarians, with a roughly equal split between male and female. Note that I said "potential audience", as the actual audience engaging with these games was much smaller.
During the 2 1/2 hours spent observing from 5 to 7:30 on Friday night(and yes, I did get to talk to the manager after about an hour), I only saw three people actually use any of the games, all of whom came from the same group of about 12 boys and girls in their early teens. The game of choice? The claw machine (ah, young love), at which no one was a winner. There were, of course, the requisite young children who would run over and start mashing the buttons and pretend to play, but for the most part it appeared that people did not even register that the games were there.
At this point I decided to become a part of the experiment and see how people would react to someone playing one of the games. Unfortunately, the only game I have prior experience and some modicum of skill with is "Time Crisis 2", a first person shooter where you have a gun and a foot-pedal. Releasing the foot pedal causes your character to crouch, with no other controls provided. I played for approximately 25 minutes, timing the gameplay to include the exit of viewers who had just been watching "Wanted", a styled and brutal, but semi-laughable, action movie (exploding rats as a weapon? yeah right). I figured if any group would have a reaction, it should be them as they were already "primed for violence". The actuallity of it was quite different, with my "spotter" (a friends sister who works as an usher) noting no reactions among any of the exiting crowd. The only reaction either of us observed was again a small child who was "playing" beside me (the game allows for two players) until his brother dragged him away to go see "Wall-E".

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